I want to start by saying I do not believe you need to be a connoisseur of classic menswear (or the women’s equivalent) to be well dressed. Searching for a definition for “well-dressed” produces many different definitions. The one that I like most is from dictionary.com and defines well dressed as “attired in clothing that is of good quality, is properly fitted, and is appropriate and becoming”. That definition lists 3 of what I consider to be the most important tenants of dressing well. In this post, I will discuss how I interpret these principles and how I think they should apply to a pharmacist (and other healthcare professionals that wear a white coat over “professional dress” or “business casual”).
Pharmacists, along with nurses, medical doctors, and sometimes dentists, consistently rank in top 3 or 4 of Gallup’s annual poll. There is a ton of published research that has evaluated the effect a white coat has on a persons’ opinion of the wearer (if you are curious here, here, and here are good studies to read). But lots of people claim that the evidence is conflicting and some places like Mayo Clinic have almost done away with the white coat completely. Instead of talking about white coats in this post (I already have here and here), I will talk about what I think should be under them.
The first thing I expect to hear from those that work in hospital settings is the “But I wear scrubs every day” argument. That’s fine. I’ve been there. I get it. However, if you have the option to wear scrubs or professional dress and you are consistently choosing to wear scrubs then the issue is a little different. “But everyone else wears scrubs!” So if everyone was going to jump off of a bridge…you get the point. In fact, anyone that feels that they should conform to the standard of dress of those around them would fall into the same category. A response to that thought process warrants a post of its own. If that is your argument, jump over to that post, let me know your thoughts in the comments, and then come back here and continue reading.
Now that we have separated out the pharmacists and other white coat wearers this does not apply to, let’s get into those 3 tenants.
1. “Attired in clothing that is of good quality”
Good quality can be a vague term, but once you start learning the basics of menswear you get a pretty good idea of what is excellent or good quality and what is not. If you don’t want to get too technical there are still some brands that consistently and solely produce high-quality items (be that suiting, shirts, shoes or whatever else) and you will always be safe buying from them. But, if you really want to get a good grasp on what quality menswear really is then I recommend doing some further research.
My brief definition of quality would be clothing, accessories, and footwear that is made with care and in such a way that it will last for a long time.
2. “Clothing is properly fitting”
This is an easy one. Find a great tailor. Notice I did not say, “find a good tailor”, or even worse “find a tailor”; there is a difference between a great tailor and all the other tailors out there and you will definitely notice it in the way your clothes fit.
The fit of your clothing is paramount to being well dressed. Ill-fitting, high-quality clothing will not make you appear well dressed, especially to those with a discerning eye. Interestingly, cheaper, lower quality garments that have been placed in the hands of a great tailor and subsequently fit extremely well can do wonders for your appearance.
3. “Clothing is appropriate and becoming”
Let’s address “appropriate” first. Beyond the obvious like wearing black tie attire to work in a community pharmacy or a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops to rounds at the hospital, there are a few other important things to consider when thinking about this part of the definition.
The definitions and descriptions of professional dress and business casual vary widely and do not do a great job of addressing anything beyond general guidelines and a few examples of what and what not to wear. For me, there has always been a fair amount of ambiguity in these dress codes.
The important thing is to consider your daily activities at work and choose your wardrobe with those in mind. Make sure your clothing will not interfere with any of your duties or cause distractions or excessive attention (from patients or colleagues).
As far as “becoming” is concerned, I would suggest being aware of your body type and what makes you look good. There is plenty of information out there discussing very specific things to choose to best compliment your physique, skin tone, etc. These are things like lapel width, trouser cuffs, button stance, and countless other small details that actually make a big difference.
Clearly, I enjoy striving to be well dressed, but I also believe that being well dressed has many intangible benefits, namely establishing trust and receiving respect from patients and colleagues. You wouldn’t be confident in the abilities of other professionals that don’t look the part and it is unfair to expect people to trust and believe in us as healthcare professionals simply because we throw a (often stained, dirty, and wrinkled) white coat over whatever mildly presentable clothes we could find before our shift. A little effort goes a long way when it comes to looking your best and presenting your best possible professional image to patients and colleagues.